‘Stretching’ Is the Key to Long-Lasting Friendships
Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman on keeping Big Friendship strong
Stretching keeps your muscles strong and healthy, and flexible enough to maintain a range of motion. The same principle applies to friendship. Given that we’ve been friends with each other for over a decade and co-host a podcast about friendship, we can say with some confidence that stretching is the best metaphor we’ve come up with to describe the give-and-take necessary to maintain an expansive, challenging, inspiring Big Friendship.
Life inevitably brings changes. And those changes often shift the foundation on which a friendship was built. That’s just how it is. You are not the person you were 10 years ago, and you won’t be the exact same person in the next decade. For a Big Friendship to survive, it has to adapt.
There are little stretches that crop up early in a friendship, like getting over the fact that it always takes your friend a full day to text you back or admitting that you don’t like the same music. And there are slightly bigger stretches, which often present themselves later. Maybe you used to live in the same neighborhood, and now that you live farther apart you have to decide whose turf you’re going to meet on. Or bigger stretches, like you used to feel like financial equals, then one of you started making a lot more money, and suddenly things are tense every time the check comes.
Then there are huge stretches, like renegotiating the terms of your friendship when one of you moves away, or becomes a parent, or develops a chronic illness. For years a friendship might require only a comfortable, familiar set of stretches, and then one of you starts working a night shift, becomes a primary caregiver, or meets their future spouse, and you have to learn a whole new repertoire.
If the concept of stretching makes you feel queasy or unsure, that’s normal. Most of us don’t like to venture too far out of our comfort zones — especially when it comes to friendship, which we’ve been taught is supposed to always feel easy and harmonious. It can also be difficult to figure out the right amount of growth and sacrifice to devote to a friendship, because we’re not taught that friends are worth stretching for at all.